Goodbye Mother Guilt :: an open letter to mothers

Dear Mothers,

I have been thinking so much about you, wondering what you’ve been up to while I’ve been away navel gazing and trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing.

I imagine you are still enjoying the blissful/horrible reality of mothering, that you are sometimes over the moon in love with that precious creature of yours and sometimes you’re so damn sick of that tiny voice you want to scream (and sometimes you do scream)…

Yes, and I know what happens next.

The guilt pours in and you wish you could be more perfect like those Waldorf mothers who have perfect basket lunches or those stay at home moms who just love home-making and seem to have no need of anything else in life.

Yes, you wish you could just strangle her and make her admit the truth. That she’s in as much denial as you are in pain, that she would do anything to avoid her own feminine power if it meant she didn’t have to face her own fear of failure. Yes, you if only you could get it out of her even for one small moment… then maybe you could cut yourself some slack. Maybe.

I am a workin’ mama (a frickin’ crazy second generation work-a-holic ticking time bomb workin’ mama to be honest). I mean really, I am actually quite a bad mother and I had a bad mother too.

Double bad imprint going forward for sure!

I ignore my kids and snap at them and forget what’s really important pretty much daily. I am most certainly ruining their lives. And you know what???

I am SICK of feeling guilty.

I am sick of buying into the myth of the perfect mother, that she exists and that she is anything but a tyranny invented to destroy women’s dreams and visions.

The truth is my kids are turning out pretty well. People are always telling me how amazing and smart and fun they are. AND YOU KNOW WHAT? They are.

Despite me?

I could say that it’s despite me and keep my stock in the Mother Tyranny. I could say I’m sorry and do my penance and skulk back to my cave of conformity and shame.

But no… today I am a whistle blower!

I am calling bullshit on all the mofo Perfect Mother advice crap parading around as psychology and neurobiology and developmental imprinting and non-violence.

No my kids are turning out as well as they are because of me, because of my mother and her mother. Because I choose to show up and be authentic. Not despite my failings, but because of my failings.

When I’m mad I’m mad. When I’m sad I’m sad and when I’m grieving I’m just that, grieving. I don’t hide out behind closed doors to fight with my husband and then magically appear as if nothing is wrong. Nope. Not me. I don’t lie to my kids.

I read a book shortly after David and I were married.

It was by a man named John Gottman. In his book he cited his research that found that the longevity and happiness of a marriage had NOTHING to do with its decibel levels. Couples who screamed at each other we no more likely to report overall unhappiness or end up divorcing than quiet conflict-avoidant types.

The thing that did make a difference was the level of contempt they had for each other and their ability to face conflict at least some of the time. In fact the quieter more conflict-avoidant marriages were the most likely to fall apart.

I owe a lot to Mr. Gottman because on that day I stopped feeling guilty for being a fiery and conflict-ready person. Don’t get me wrong. I have my fear of conflict, but I grew up loving people through conflict not instead of it. I am even an introvert who has a physiological predisposition to avoiding conflict, but I have my “bad” mother to thank for helping me develop the resilience needed to handle it better than many people.

We do an awful lot of running from, fixing, and avoiding, problems.

Most of our “solutions” are more about avoiding the discomfort of facing the problem than anything else.

For example, sometime in adolescence I decided (with the help of friends and cultural institutions) that I had a bad mother. Everyone agreed. She forgot my birthday, she yelled at me kinda a lot, she was financially unstable despite being a raging work-a-holic, etc.

For years I ran around allowing, even encouraging, people to hate my mother and to treat me as less than them because I had a mother like her. It did garner me a healthy dose of pity though, and for many years that was enough to keep me in the cycle.

And then there was reading Gottman’s book and realizing that maybe my mother wasn’t my problem. It took me a few more years and becoming a mother myself to really grasp the paradox of mother guilt, but damn it, now there’s no going back. Not really.

Now I see my mother, every crack and crevice, every weakness and failure, as my personal salvation. She is the woman who made me in her body and embraced me the best she could. It was not only her amazing intelligence, passion, creativity and industrious spirit that made me who I am today. It was her yelling, and neglect and controlling manipulations that have provided the resistance for me to grow against.

Without trauma there ain’t no Heroine’s Journey, Sister.”

There is no return, there is no humanity… only boring perfection.

Now this is very different from wallowing in one’s problems or romanticizing them. It’s an inner alchemy, a visionary practice that is really a demanding and profound discipline, but when it works, it works magic.

“Write to save yourself….and one day you’ll write because you’ve been saved.”
~ Anne Michaels

Delve into the darkness, let it bring you to weeping, to wailing, for your dear tenderness, for the wounds of the world, for the hopelessness. Be with it. Stop running from it and admit all the horror of it . . . and then the alchemy will begin.

I promise.

It has to.

Winter ice must thaw.

Death must move to rebirth and Spring emerge.

This is what the earth teaches us.

By honoring this cycle we honor and care for her.


Intrigued? Want to delve deeper?

You might love the lēmniscāta mystery school for mamas:


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  1. Veena says:

    Thank you for this article. Though I have also been authentic, there are holes thanks to my culture and my reading of psychology. My son has turned out fairly well.


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